No schmaltz in ‘Feast of Love’

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

Making a relationship drama without schmaltz is just as hard as making a good comedy without slapstick. If done right, it can be charming and memorable and uplifting. But just a touch of false emotion, and you end up with a disaster.

Distinguished director Robert Benton proves once again, in “Feast of Love,” that he’s a master of mature filmmaking. He walks a fine line in this ensemble examination of love’s many faces, and in the end makes a poignant case for believing that, with all our faults, we generally try to do the right thing.

It’s set in and around the beautiful environs of Portland, Ore., and mostly involves the people who wander in and out of Jitters, a coffee shop run by clueless and optimistic Greg Kinnear. His best customer is also our narrator and P.O.V. guy played by steady old Morgan Freeman, who has his own probs to deal with. Morgan’s wife is played with low-key brilliance by Jane Alexander.

Those three, along with Fred Ward, might be the only faces on screen that you’ll quickly recognize. And Fred, in four brief appearances, spends most of his camera time being angry as a boiled owl because his son hates him. He’s a mean old cuss, for sure.

The rest of the major cast members (Radha Mitchell, Billy Burke, Selma Blair, Toby Hemmingway, Alexa Davalos and Stana Katic) portray those hip, young liberal Oregonians that give Republicans such a pain in the patoot. In fact, taken as a group, one might easily make the case that all they do in Oregon is house-hunt and have sex. Maybe it’s the weather out there.

(Yes, let us pause and interject: it’s really not a kid’s movie. Almost everyone except Morgan and Jane get nekkid at one time or another, on screen.)

Needless to say, everyone in the film has baggage. And the focus of the film is the wonderment as well as the heartbreak of falling in love. It begins with Kinnear’s wife, right under his nose, falling instantly in love with another woman.

(Yeah, it’s a tough film for poor Greg, but surprisingly enough, by the end of the movie, he learns to float his own boat.)

The various stories intertwine nicely, even though (like life) all the threads are not neatly tied up at the end. The characters are various and interesting and flawed, and there are several scenes that will reach out and grab you by the heart. One quiet little episode of Freeman and Alexander in front of a mirror was my very favorite. Ain’t nothin’ like Geezer Love, Granny!

Young love, old love, same-gender love, funny love, sad love, it’s all here in an on-going panorama of laughs and tears.

Perhaps it’s not as profound as it could be, but the film has a good many interesting things to contemplate about life and love in general. I came away with the feeling that maybe director Benton’s film of Allison Burnett’s screenplay (based on Charles Baxter’s novel) delivered the quiet little message that love may not conquer all, but it does pervade all.

Nice to see they’re still making films for grownups.

If you’re still rummaging around in your memory trying to dig up Robert Benton, he’s won three Oscars and written the scripts for some great movies: “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Places in the Heart” (1984) and “Nobody’s Fool” (1994), just to name three.

Among the younger cast members, Alexa Davalos stood out, playing a twentysomething with strength and integrity, and the skill to match mighty Morgan in the film’s final scene.

Meanwhile, back at the Dixie:

On the local screens, I’d recommend “Death at a Funeral,” a stylish British dark comedy, along with local-boy-makes-good product “Pearl Diver.” And if you’re still Jonesing for drama, try “In the Valley of Elah,” reviewed here last week.

  

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The Augusta Free Press. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.


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